Narlin has a surprise for Genevieve.
Chapter 18 – More Work
Chapter 19 – Gathering
Chapter 20 – Poisons
It was not long before I realized that my task was not going to be just an amusing translation and a drawing game. I realized that I had to actually learn the language. I was expected to learn to speak it and to master the vocabulary, including the spelling. This was going to be a challenge for my poor, untraveled synapses.
Narlin made me read, write, and speak the ancient language every day for what seemed like an eternity. One morning when we went into the library, he did not walk to the shelves on the right wall, but rather, to the shelves on the left wall. I followed him closely, my curiosity increasing with each step.
I watched as his fingers passed the jars filled with what had once been living creatures. He did not take any of those. His fingers continued scanning each jar until he had selected four small ones. He set them on the table and beckoned me to come and examine them. They appeared to be filled either with powder or seeds. I bent over and smelt the contents of each jar, surprised to find that the odors were more pleasant than offensive.
I was beginning to guess that today’s lesson didn’t include reading and writing the ancient language. I was wrong.
While I was investigating the contents of these four jars, touching and smelling them, Narlin had walked across the room, retrieving yet another faded parchment. When he returned to my side, he handed it to me.
“Lady Genevieve, would you like to read this for me?” he asked.
After a while I realized that it was a medical recipe. The contents of the four jars could be mixed to create a medicine. Narlin explained that this medicine could help bring down a fever. Then he talked about other medicines that he made. He spoke about medicines for aches and pains. He talked about medicines to help fight infection. He told me about medicines that could enable women to become fertile, or on the contrary, delay a pregnancy. When I had translated the document and followed the instructions in the formula, I sighed and passed the jar to Narlin.
“You have done well,” Narlin said, handing me a second parchment. “Now you may do this one.”
“What does this one do?” I asked inquisitively.
“Just follow the instructions, and I will explain it to you afterwards,” Narlin said with that twinkle in his eye again.
After translating it, I went to the shelves on the left, collected the appropriate ingredients, and came back to the table to start measuring and mixing. Before I knew it, it was lunchtime.
“You have worked diligently, Genevieve. I believe you deserve a reward,” my kind mentor said, “but for the moment, I think that we must attend to an old man’s hunger!” he added with a wink of his eye as he took the last jar I had prepared and headed for the door.
I was both perplexed and eager to find out what my reward would be when I realized that we had spent the entire morning conversing in the ancient tongue. Suddenly I was hungry too. Just the thought of another of Narlin’s delicious lunches was reward enough for me.
“Are you ready for your surprise, my lady?” Narlin asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“Yes, Narlin, if you would be kind enough to give it to me,” I replied, joining in his game. I remembered the gifts he had bestowed upon Peter and Angela and was full of anticipation.
“Give it to you?” he asked, raising his right eyebrow. “And just what would you have me give you?” he asked with a mocking, almost reprimanding, voice.
I didn’t know exactly what to think or how to react. He had given a ring to Peter and the amulet to Angela. He had said that he had a surprise for me too. When I didn’t reply, he continued.
“Dear Genevieve, I am not going to give you anything. I am going to take you somewhere,” he said with his most-annoyed schoolmaster’s voice.
“We are going somewhere?” I asked, amazed. I hadn’t left Narlin’s home for weeks except to spend a few quiet moments alone, or with Narlin, next to the underground lake that I had come to refer to as the contemplation pool.
“Yes, dear lady, we are going gathering,” Narlin said mysteriously.
We walked silently along the contemplation pool for five minutes until Narlin reached a small depression in a stone wall on the right of the cavern. It was a dark, little corner almost like a tiny cavern within a cavern. He ran his hand along the wall. Then suddenly a secret staircase appeared from nowhere.
“Follow me,” Narlin said as he began carefully ascending the staircase. I climbed right behind him. After about a minute, sunlight started filtering its way down. The air was fresh and clean, not that it had smelled bad at Narlin’s, but it just smelled incredibly fresh.
When we were finally out of the staircase, everything was breathtakingly pastoral. The grass was spring green, and there were flowers everywhere. The birds were singing and flying around happily performing their arabesques, and most of all, the sun was shining. Sunlight suffused the entire scene. I could feel it caress my face and warm my body. It felt wonderful to be outside. I hadn’t realized how long it had been that I had been down in the cavern with Narlin, nor had I realized that I hadn’t seen the light of day for ages. Now it was wonderful. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to have been dressed in shorts and a tank top rather than in my long, encumbering skirt!
I almost jumped when I heard a sudden movement in the bushes. Then I realized that it was just a small, brown rabbit. I felt young and carefree like a little girl.
“Look Narlin. There’s a little rabbit!” I exclaimed, pointing and almost hopping up and down with excitement.
“It feels good. Does it not, my lady?” Narlin asked, handing me a yellow daffodil. “The sunshine has such wonderful powers.”
“Come,” he said, walking off to the right. Soon I could smell it. It was a gentle waterfall which was slowly cascading into a small pool filled with little tadpoles and jumping fish. I wondered if the fish that Narlin had cooked for me had come from this pool.
We could feel the spray from the waterfall on our faces, and we laughed. We were both in such good spirits, so we drank and relaxed a few minutes. Then Narlin pulled out a basket from nowhere. It was filled with all kinds of wonderful things to eat. I recognized the jar in it. The jar was the one I had prepared that morning. We spread it on our bread, and I couldn’t believe my taste buds—it was delicious!
“That was pleasant,” Narlin said, smiling. “Now we must return to our undertaking. There is much for you to learn.”
Narlin started to teach me the plants and their medicinal properties. It was amazing. We gathered flowers and leaves, fungi and roots. We spent the entire day. It was wonderful. I even coaxed the little rabbit to come to me. To my great surprise, it let me hold it.
I really enjoyed learning from Narlin. He knew so much about so many things. We came back the next day and the day after that. We came every day until I could recognize almost every variety of plant, and I had learned all the names of the animals in the ancient language. I even named the little, brown rabbit: I called him “Sunny.” He came to greet us every day. He liked Narlin. Sometimes I had the impression that Narlin was talking to him. Anyway, Sunny was so sweet that he would always let me caress him, knowing full well that I would give him a little treat as a reward.
The next scroll Narlin gave me had the formula for something that I knew was useful: It was a recipe for gallog. After I made it, we decided that it was time for a break. We took the jar full of gallog and went to sit a few well-deserved moments in front of the hearth. It was a pleasant time. I almost felt as if I were with my father. Thinking about him made me miss my family. I wondered how Peter and Angela were. I wondered if I would ever see Jake again. I wondered if he even knew that I was gone. Another swallow of gallog and I was looking forward to my next lesson with Narlin.
Narlin had a method to his madness. I soon found myself back in Narlin’s little library studying these plants and creating medicines. Each time I would mix up a new medicine, he would give me a new scroll. He was a real slave driver. Day after day, I associated my knowledge of the ancient language with my recently acquired knowledge of botany and applied them with the ancient writings found on each new scroll that Narlin brought me.
“Lady Genevieve, you have done well. Now you know how to make many medicines to cure many ailments. It is time for you to learn more.”
I was not sure exactly what he was leading up to, so I waited patiently for him to explain.
“Sometimes, dear Lady Genevieve, there is another kind of knowledge that is important to have.”
Narlin got up from the bench and started pacing back and forth. He held his face in his hands as he walked. His shoulders slumped and he seemed troubled. He paced for another fifteen minutes before finally looking at me. It was beginning to make me nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, so I sat quietly squirming in my seat, watching him as he walked back and forth.
“The next thing that you have to learn, Lady Genevieve, is how to make poisons,” he said, looking me straight in the eyes.
“Narlin, why do I have to learn about poisons? Is that not dangerous? I could never poison anyone.”
“Dear Lady Genevieve, you must learn about poisons. In order to help someone who has been poisoned, one must be able to recognize the symptoms of the poison and know the antidote. Also, sometimes to avoid being killed by a poison, it is necessary to take the poison in small doses building up immunity to that particular poison. Many medicines are also poisons. You have already learned to make many medicines. If the dose is right, it is a medicine; if it is too strong, it becomes a poison. It may also, one day, be necessary to actually use a true poison.”
Well, I didn’t know what to say to that. It seemed that I was about to study poisons.
“Be comforted, my lady. First, we will learn how to use the medicines that you have made. Only then will we begin to work on deadly poisons.”
Fortunately, that was for the next day. We spent the rest of the day enjoying each other’s company.
“Narlin, why do you live alone?” I ventured.
Narlin looked at me in total surprise. I don’t think that he had ever thought about the question. Then he raised one eyebrow and asked, “What do you mean—why do I live alone?”
“Well, did you ever marry? Do you have any children?” I asked, getting a bit personal, but after living in his home for so long I rather felt like I had the right to ask.
“You are the curious one, my dear,” Narlin replied, not answering me at all.
He continued putting logs on the fire and using the poker to help build it up a bit more. I sat there waiting patiently, well, almost patiently. Narlin seemed to be very intent on building the fire up, spending much more time than usual.
“Narlin, you did not answer me,” I finally said.
He frowned at me, his brow furrowed. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but he had my curiosity up.
“Narlin,” I repeated.
“You are indeed the curious one, my dear,” he replied.
“You said that.”
“I know what I said.”
“Nar,” I began, but he cut me off.
“I see that I have not given you enough work to do today, Lady Genevieve,” he said, raising his voice in his schoolmaster’s tone. Before I could open my mouth again, he waved his hand and continued.
“I was once in love. It was a long, long time ago. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. I think that she cast a spell on me. Actually, she probably did. You see, I was a very handsome, young man myself. I was innocent and carefree. I was just learning to be a wizard. I was studying, much as you are now, and I had much to learn. I had so much to learn, but I was immature and thought that I knew everything. Unfortunately, I did not.
“One day, I went down to the lake. I undressed and jumped in to go swimming. I remember the water. It was cool and clear. It felt amazing because it was a sweltering day. I had been studying all morning and thus had been given the afternoon free. Since it was so hot, of course I had headed straight for the water, and I was glad that I did.
“I was diving in and out of the water. It was funny. A few times I thought that I had heard laughter, but each time I stopped and listened, there was no sound. I was sure that I was imagining things. When you are a young wizard studying magic all the time, you do tend to have an overactive imagination.
“Then I dove underwater and came up choking. I had seen her. She was there under the water. She was watching me, she was smiling, and I was naked! I started running to get out of the water as quickly as I could, but she reached up, grabbed my ankle, and pulled me back under the water.
“I was terrified. I tried to get away. Then I heard her laugh again, and it made me angry. How dare she laugh at me! I was a man, a man bare as a newborn pup, trying to get away from a young maiden, and unable to escape.
“Somehow, I saw the humor in the situation and started laughing as well. I was underwater, and I was laughing. I heard the muffled sound of my own voice, and it startled me because I realized that meant that I was underwater breathing. ‘What kind of extraordinary magic was this?’ I wondered to myself.
“Then I started looking at her. She was beautiful. No, that is not enough. Words are not enough. Her beauty was beyond description, and she was nude too. She was the first maiden that I had ever seen unclothed. I was under her spell.
“At that moment, I forgot about everything else. I forgot about my studies. I forgot about wanting to be a magician. All I wanted was her. And she wanted me.
“We lost track of time. I think that perhaps years went by. Then one day my father came to the pool. I think that he must have seen me. The next thing that I knew, I was out of the water and marching back home.
“My father explained to me that she was a water nymph. It did not bother me that she was a nymph. What difference did it make anyway as long as I was happy? But my father had other plans.
“He forbade me to go back to the pond. Although I respected my father and had always tried to obey him, I doubt that that was enough to keep me from going back. I think that he must have put a spell on me too.
“I don’t believe that I went back to the pool while my father was still alive. After he died, I found myself back there one day. She was still there. She was as beautiful as the first day I saw her. She still remembered me, and she still loved me. But she was ill.
“She was very sick, but I did not know what was wrong with her, and she did not know either. I tried to give her all the medicines that I knew about, but none of them worked.
“I entered the water and stayed with her until she died. I loved her and I cried. She loved me and she died.
“I stayed in the water for a long time after she died. Finally, one day I went out. I do not know why. I just did.
“She was gone. All I had left was her memory, and I took it with me. I took with me the memory of her beauty, of her laughter, of her love, of her anguish, of my inability to help her, and it was killing me.
“I came back and read every scroll in my father’s and my grandfather’s library. I studied every single one until the day that I realized that she died because she was poisoned, and I could have saved her.
“I think that I died that day. I died because I killed her. I killed her because I did not study everything that I could have. I died inside because I could have saved her.”
Narlin became silent. He was spent and looked a century older. I didn’t know whether to feel guilty to have pried into Narlin’s personal life or to think that I had done him a favor by letting him finally express himself and perhaps free himself at last of his guilt.
One thing was certain, I was going to study every scroll that Narlin set before me, and if I was granted more time, I would study every single scroll in the library, especially those concerning medicines and poisons.